United States transfers last prison under its control to Iraq
Posted: Thursday, July 15, 2010 8:01 pm
By BARBARA SURK
Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD (AP) — The United States handed over the last detention facility under its control to Iraqi authorities today, a milestone in Iraq’s push for complete sovereignty seven years after the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.
Iraq’s assumption of control over the base near the international airport on the southwestern outskirts of Baghdad also marks the end of a troubling chapter in the U.S. presence in the country — one defined for years by the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. With the handover, Iraq has now taken control of the last of three such prisons controlled by U.S. forces.
The transfer raises questions about how well prepared the Iraqis are to handle the detainees, with concerns about sectarian tensions spilling over into the prison system. Inmates in Iraqi detention facilities have repeatedly complained about torture and beatings by the police, as well as overcrowding and poor conditions behind bars.
Prisoners in U.S. custody, meanwhile, have benefited from reforms in the wake of photographs showing abuse of inmates by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib in 2004.
The American general in charge of detainee centers in Iraq said the Iraqis were ready for the added responsibility.
“There is overwhelming evidence they are equipped, prepared and poised to take over,” Maj. Gen. Jerry Cannon said, stressing that the detainees still being held by the U.S. were under Iraqi jurisdiction.
Camp Cropper held members of Saddam’s ousted regime, who were housed in separate quarters from the other prisoners. The ex-dictator was kept in a cell there until his December 2006 execution.
The base was renamed Karkh Prison. During a ceremony, the Americans symbolically handed over a key to the prison, which now holds 1,500 detainees.
The United States will continue to hold 200 other detainees, including eight former regime members who will be kept in a separate part of the facility dubbed Compound 5, Cannon said. With the exception of those 200, there are no more prisoners in U.S. custody in Iraq, he said.
Iraq’s assumption of control over the base comes at a critical juncture for the country.
The U.S. is readying to pull out all combat forces by September, leaving a force of some 50,000 ahead of a full withdrawal by the end of next year.
Iraqi officials, meanwhile, are locked in a power struggle over forming a new government four months after no clear winner emerged from the March 7 elections. The ensuing political vacuum has prompted complaints from Iraqis that the politicians are more interested in their political welfare than the interests of a nation still struggling with near daily bombings and shootings.
At least 10 people were killed in a host of bombings across Iraq today.
The deadliest attack took place in Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit north of Baghdad, when a car bomb targeting a police patrol exploded, killing three police and three bystanders, police said.
A day ahead of Camp Cropper’s handover, Iraqi officials said the U.S. had turned over 55 former regime figures, including ex-Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, to Iraqi authority since last year.
Rights groups have raised concerns about the treatment of prisoners in Iraqi custody, most recently in April, when Sunnis alleged they were tortured in secret prisons run by Iraq’s Shiite-dominated security forces.
But Iraqi officials sought to allay concerns that Iraqi jailers would fail to respect the human rights of those in their charge.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told The Associated Press that all the detainees handed over by the Americans are assured their rights.
“They will be tried fairly, transparently and truthfully” under Iraqi laws, al-Dabbagh said, in a clear indication that the government plans to continue with the trials of the former dictator’s henchmen.
Aziz’s son, Ziad, however, voiced worries over the safety of his father at the hands of a government he claims is bent on revenge. He also was concerned over his father’s failing health and that the former diplomat, who has suffered a series of strokes, might not receive the necessary medical care.
“I’m surprised. The Americans have a moral responsibility toward my father and the others,” he said. “He turned himself in to U.S. custody, unlike the others who were hunted down.”
Aziz’s lawyer, Badee Izzat Aref, said he was trying to ask the Vatican to intervene on behalf of Aziz, who he said had been transferred to a detention facility in Baghdad.
Published in The Messenger 7.15.10